One of Lean’s fundamental concepts is to define Value as that which is desired by the customer. The opposite of this is Muda, or waste. But what is muda in the eyes of the customer – either internal or external?
A lot of discussions on Lean thinking have pointed to the term “waste” as being misleading or, at the very least, difficult for most audiences to understand. After all, no one likes to think of the work they do as Waste. So, many have endeavored to come up with other terms, or to better define just what Muda is. I believe I may have found a useful alternative that is simple, intuitive, and part of our every day language.
If you’ll pardon the expression, the simplest way of explaining it, is that Muda is Bullsh*t.
Put yourself in the shoes of your customer (better make those boots instead) and consider how you’d respond to a vendor who offered you these statements:
- We didn’t hit our goal of increasing profits 10% last quarter, so we’re going to raise our prices for the rest of the year to make up for it.
- We only do a production run of that part once every six months due to the high set-up costs in our factory, but we’ll put your part on back-order and give you a call once it’s in stock.
- You’re in a rush? Well, we’ve got a huge backlog. We’ll have to put you in the queue, or we could charge an expediting fee to get you ahead of our other orders.
- With the way the economy is, we had to let some people go, so we’ve had to discontinue some services. We can offer you a discount on something else, though.
If your reaction to any of the above statements is, “That’s bullsh*t!” you now have a firm grasp of what is waste, and what is value, in the eyes of the customer. Now consider some of the goings-on internally, within the company:
- I visited a company once that had ping pong tables in the lounges. People there looked like they were having fun. Let’s get some ping pong tables in here, then we’ll be having fun. And schedule a company picnic and a fishing trip, too.
- The guys up at corporate want that report, so let’s give it to them. I don’t think anyone looks at it, but that’s not our job to worry about it. Our job is to give them their report.
- If we re-organize we’ll be more efficient and better aligned.
- Everyone write down their objectives for the year, then turn them in to your manager. At the end of the year, we’ll see how well you did and reward your accomplishments with merit increases. Merit increases have been capped at 2% due to external economic factors beyond our control.
- I’m not sure where to put that. Just store it over there and we’ll dig it out later if anyone even asks for it. Usually, those things just sit there until we throw them out 2 years later.
If your response to any of these is also, “That’s bullsh*t!” then you have an even deeper understanding of how waste is generated. Fact of the matter is, most workplaces are full of bullsh*t. If you’ve ever felt like all you do is deal with other people’s bullsh*t 95% of the time, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re just about average – most companies generate about 85-95% Muda in their processes. As we all know, there’s usually a lot more bullsh*t than we know what to do with.
Bullshi*t, if you’ll pardon another expression, is a pain in the a**. It causes people to spend more time coping with a problem than developing solutions. It drains energy, increases irritation, causes total disengagement and leads to poor quality, lost customers, and dwindling profits. Even though bullsh*t may be deemed beneficial since it creates job security and cleaning it up at least gives some people a purpose, it’s also extremely messy and isn’t very pleasant to work with every day.
Customers also don’t want to pay for bullsh*t. Odds are, they have more than enough of it back at their own place. If they don’t, they certainly don’t want to buy yours. Bullsh*t is a funny thing for a company, in that the more of it you generate, the less of it people will want to buy.
The goal of Lean is to eliminate waste. Therefore, since Muda is bullsh*t, the more of it we can get rid of the better off we’ll all be.